The Problems with the “March of Evolution” Meme

The Problems with the “March of Evolution” Meme January 26, 2018

Here’s an example of a famous image that tells us more about the way we see ourselves than about human evolution:

There must be thousands of these illustrations, maybe millions if you count the comic-strip parodies of the meme. No one at Driven to Abstraction disputes the evolution of humans from the same ancient ancestors as all life on Earth. However, the “March of Evolution” illustration isn’t really illustrating anything about human origins. What it shows us is how oversimplified and self-serving our view of natural history is.

Evolving Toward Perfection

First off, this is only half the story. Evolution doesn’t end with all-important Homo Sap. Secondly, the notion that these particular species were ancestral to humans is speculation; there’s no way to know whether the extinct species of whom we find fossils were truly our ancestors or simply related to them. (Frankly, the fourth of our ancestors in the line looks way too much like Curious George for my liking.) Moreover, even if we assume that these are ancestral to humans, these previous species —whether ancient aquatic creatures or more recent hominids— weren’t just test runs for humanity. They weren’t going “toward” human form in the sense that this diagram implies. Even though we’re aware that evolution has no direction or purpose, we still talk about humans being “more evolved” than other life forms or our ancestors.

White Man’s Evolution

Most importantly, there’s a lot of prejudice in this sort of image that we don’t notice until someone points it out: the end result is always a white man. Dark-skinned men and all women have also evolved from nonhuman ancestors, but these images always put a white guy at the end (right in front of the slightly darker-skinned proto-human), implying that white males are the pinnacle of evolutionary development.

It depicts nothing but the pop culture caricature of evolution, that makes us as important as we think we are in the scheme of things. My hero, the late great paleontologist and science writer Stephen Jay Gould, discusses the problems with these sorts of caricatures in this video, starting at the 31 minute mark:

In his essay “The Iconography of Expectation,” Gould wrote:

The familiar iconographies of evolution are all directed—sometimes crudely, sometimes subtly—toward reinforcing a comfortable view of human inevitability and superiority. […] The march of progress is the canonical representation of evolution—the one picture immediately grasped and viscerally understood by all. […] The straitjacket of linear advance goes beyond iconography to the definition of evolution: the word itself becomes a synonym for progress. […] Life is a copiously branching bush, continually pruned by the grim reaper of extinction, not a ladder of predictable progress. Most people may know this as a phrase to be uttered, but not as a concept brought into the deep interior of understanding. Hence we continually make errors inspired by unconscious allegiance to the ladder of progress, even when we explicitly deny such a superannuated view of life.

Truth in Oversimplifying

This is an oversimplified, misleading illustration that anyone with any degree of scientific literacy should deplore. However, it panders so effectively to our views about our superiority in the order of Nature and our delusions about “progress” that we overlook its shortcomings.

What do you say? Is this a simplistic way of conveying the facts about evolution? Am I reading too much into it?

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  • LeekSoup

    I hadn’t seen the latent racism in depicting the ‘end result’ human as white. Now I can’t unsee it.

  • And why is it always a man? Didn’t modern women evolve too?

  • Neko

    What a piece of work is man, How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty, In form and moving how express and admirable, In action how like an Angel, In apprehension how like a god, The beauty of the world, The paragon of animals.

  • Neko
  • al kimeea

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/9211eaddadd8cac5efd60465fa887bd282a77ada4e3f2ccb50a25b1becb17ce2.png

    Well, it still is a guy and still a metaphor, a more simple one. Perhaps the pinnacle should be in pumps and Victoria’s Secret.

    The evolution I was taught was nothing like you describe, back in the hippy dippy 60s & 70s. We are not the product of evolution, but
    a product, certainly not the end result of our species. It can’t be finished, because the talking monkeys are still evolving as mammals are wont to do. Not only our anatomy, but our thinking and why we need to have “critical thinking” taught in schools. We were also taught the context of the times in which the gwai lohs developed that image. I laugh at the people you describe. I already knew this before my education confirmed it. That’s why I laugh at people who buy that nonsense (nuthin better than a blue eyed blonde) all these years later. I seriously think we’re not smart enough to last very long.

    The only thing missing from the white human on the end is a cross of thorns. Every christian church I’ve been in had a white, matinee idol image of Jebus, while looking more like Arafat is far more probable. I’ve never been in a xian church with a largely black or hispanic congregation, so I don’t know how the guy whose hell love was brought to their ancestors by blunderbuss, blade and crucifix(whatever) is depicted.

    If you look closer at the illustration, you’ll see the racism goes even deeper. Second in line is a an old white human growing a body sweater. We’ve been covered in hair for millions of years, still are to varying degrees. Given our history, it’s not a stretch that we were hairier in the really good old days. The hot wee Page 3 Italian girl that sat in front of me in history needed to shave her lower back. A thing she revealed every time her blouse would ride up when she learned forward to chat with the student in front of her. Someone in her family tree looks like that 2nd white human. Or worse.

    The narrative that “my subset is the bestest ever, especially the one containing those with 11 fingers of a certain frequency on the EM spectrum AND requisite faith narrative” regarding any other subset of the set known as The People of the 3rd Rock from The Sun, is ancient. This concept existed before set/subsets, or 0 were conceived in Europe – before other cultures knew of them. Most children will be taught racism before they see the image on tap in any form.

    People shown that image and asked how evolved they believe blacks and whites to be on a 0-100 scale.

    Some responded like this <- link:

    These results are not limited to groups of whites that are often stereotyped as racially prejudiced. For instance, 33 percent of white
    Democrats and 34 percent of high-income whites rated black people as less evolved than white people, compared with 39 percent of white
    Republicans and 41 percent of low-income whites. Dehumanizing views are pervasive across white social groups.

    (Frankly, the fourth of our ancestors in the line looks way too much like Curious George for my liking.)

    It’s not the first time I’ve heard that joke, but it’s the first time from someone who didn’t take creationist narratives or tiki marches seriously. You obviously don’t.

    When I look at the OP image under scrutiny, in any form, I see that it represents our history as a species, of every so-called “race”. As I was taught. The scale on the cutout version represents everyone, everywhere.

    The link where I got my image/data/evidence/information shows white democrats, in surprisingly large numbers (until you factor in The War of Northern Aggression, and Vietnam, etc.) put brown people closer to Curious George while I put them, anyone at the far right… Now it is a useful metaphor, but racist to say one subset of the human set is inferior to than any other based on the actions of one member of that subset. The subset racism, of course, being an exception regardless of anything it intersects.

    Take all the stuff you talked about, and put it aside for one moment. Using any person as a pinnacle, what does the image depict regarding our
    species? Put my man Mahatma or Mandela or MLK as the “pinnacle” if you wish, I would before me or anyone like me. Lena Horne or Diahann Carroll would be preferable.

  • al kimeea

    The one I easily found is even less so – all stages have few discerning details other than degree of uprightness. And tools, knuckles on the ground and a tail… You can see that we were pretty much upright by the time one of us is 1st carrying a club. Posture was set and other features improved as a result. If posture/height were not an advantage on the savanna, we’d still be in the trees.

    Ya know, if the guy on the far right is African American, the image is no more or less accurate than the OP version. It would be most accurate if Diahann Carrol was the pinnacle. I would rather bask in her transcendent beauty.

    There are people whose faith grants them a special status, you can often recognise them when they call others snowflakes. While they might deny evolution for their subset, they would happily agree the brown subset wasn’t put here by their deity.

  • Neko

    You wrote

    I’ve never been in a xian church with a largely black or hispanic congregation, so I don’t know how the guy whose hell love was brought to their ancestors by blunderbuss, blade and crucifix(whatever) is depicted.

    From what I’ve seen the black church shows black Jesus and Hispanic-majority white Jesus.

  • Neko

    The male is the normative human because men are stronger on average and don’t die in childbirth. Even now over 800 women a day die in childbirth.

    At least I guess that’s the reason.

    You wrote:

    While they might deny evolution for their subset, they would happily agree the brown subset wasn’t put here by their deity.

    Wut?

  • al kimeea

    explain

  • al kimeea

    not a surprise

  • Neko

    Explain what?

  • al kimeea

    the Wut? at the end of your last comment

  • Neko

    What are you talking about in that blockquote?

  • al kimeea

    does this help?

    “There are people whose faith grants them a special status, you can often recognise them when they call others snowflakes.”

  • Neko

    Not really, but never mind.

  • al kimeea

    Are you unsure what subsets are? I’m being cautious in case I sound overwrought.

  • Neko

    I’m pretty sure I’m sure. But this digression has certainly become overwrought.

  • al kimeea

    If you understand subsets, then it’s pretty clear

    – religious racists are OK with the idea of brown folk evolving like all the other animals, while their in-group was made by baby Jebus

  • Neko

    Except religious racists don’t think that. You made it up.

  • al kimeea

    Um, no. In their own words.

  • Neko

    Please cite. Are you talking about the curse of Ham? If so, than the kind of Christian who would give the curse of Ham any credence is the kind of Christian who denies evolution.

  • al kimeea

    no, not specifically

    but now that you mention it, there was this Cafeteria Catholic neighbour, who was into Ham (mmmm, ham) and evolution – for the people not of Satan

    tell me I made that up

  • Neko

    Think I’ll disengage.

  • Play nice, Al. Check out the Shem Commandments and be civil.

  • al kimeea

    Neko said – “You made it up.” That’s not playing nice either but whatever

  • suchandsuch

    Nailed it.

    None of the anti-evolution propaganda I learned in Sunday School screwed up my thinking about evolution more than “The March of Progress.” The graphic offers many bad ideas to intuit about evolution — it’s one-dimensional; it’s goal-oriented; it’s primarily about humans; it occurs in individuals rather than populations, etc. Much worse, this illustration is used to promote evolution, so it’s easy to mistake all of those bad ideas for the “official version” of how evolution works.

  • I agree. It’s ironic that we criticize creationists for wanting science to pander to their prejudices, when the way we relate to evolution is so riddled with bias and wishful thinking too.

  • rationalobservations?

    Shem asks: “Is this a simplistic way of conveying the facts about evolution? Am I reading too much into it?
    Yes and yes, Shem.

    To graphically represent all of the evolution of life on Earth results in an extremely busy and complicated image.
    To graphically represent the evolution of Homo Sapiens Sapiens in the most simple form resulted in the graphics you appear to find objectionable.

    Perhaps a timeline with many of the competing hominids that slowly disappeared as our own line became dominant pleases you more?

    https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/timeline/183ea046c306a2905e8082d5b7475fee.png

  • avelworldcreator

    This isn’t the first time I’ve seen a criticism of this image. It was originally intended to be a simplification of the human result of evolution but every time you simplify shortcuts will be taken. The artist, clearly human, tended to see “human” in their own self-image. The best way to handle things like this is to do your own version that addresses your complaints… and then you will be more than likely to face your share of the same! ;p Why do you think such things have a disclaimer that it’s an artistic rendetion of an idea and may not accurately reflect things? It’s an old picture and probably due for an update. Also there are clearly better images for expressing evolution in general. Those usually take the form of a tree. But if you are trying to get an audience to accept an idea it’s best to start with that which they most identify with – themselves. And a depiction of human evolution definitely fits the bill. The target audience won’t be scientists but those being introduced to the concept. There are versions of this with the final person being of obviously African origin. There are versions of it with just a female. And there are versions that have humans depicted as a mixed gender couple. The idea that there is “progress” in the sense of the later forms being an improvement over earlier forms is simply viewer prejudice and in no way actually depicted or even implied; so there is no “pandering” to our prejudices.

  • Gary Whittenberger

    Excellent analysis! The graphic is just a very general depiction of evolution, not meant to be taken literally.

  • Charles Daniel Christopher

    I believe you are correct about the “March of Evolution” meme being much to simplified. I had never considered the matter until reading this’d blog, but after a bit of thought I must agree with the points you’ve made. It is quite possible that you are not taking you point far enough; as opposed to “reading to much” into the issue. This might make an excellent study for some psychologists looking for a topic of research–or possibly sociologists instead/too.

  • avelworldcreator

    Thank you.

  • Shane Pruett

    That’s the problem though. It IS taken literally by far too many people. Or, more accurately, some individuals and groups use it to caricature our understanding of human evolution based on this over-simplified graphic. There are plenty of ‘general depictions’ of evolution which A) do not put humans as the apex or end-point implicitly, or explicitly, B) show that evolution is by and large a process of continual extinction by some lineages while others survive, and C) illustrate the basic premise that life started at some point, began diverging continually through time down multiple evolutionary pathways, and that the ‘top’ or outer boundary of the resulting bush represents everything that is alive today. You can show a lot in a still-simple graphic that doesn’t lend itself to such mis-characterization.

  • HFR

    Richard Dawkins “Greatest show on Earth” you can trace back through DNA where every animal is related to on the evolution chain. If back bones move up and down your a mammal, if it moves side ways your reptilian, this includes fish. Remember the only thing in nature that does not exist are Gods!, they are supernatural, to believe in a God you must be addicted to superstition and be extremely gullible and or ignorant!

  • Gary Whittenberger

    SP1: That’s the problem though. It IS taken literally by far too many people.

    GW1: If I were the graphic artist and somebody complained about that graphic, I would just tell them they were interpreting it the wrong way and give them references to read. If the representatives of species are presented left to right in correct chronological order, I think it is fine. Anyone knowledgeable about evolution knows that progression, goals, and pinnacle have no place in the theory.

    SP1: Or, more accurately, some individuals and groups use it to caricature our understanding of human evolution based on this over-simplified graphic.

    GW1: All graphics representing evolution are simplified. You have to study the phenomenon.

    SP1: There are plenty of ‘general depictions’ of evolution which A) do not put humans as the apex or end-point implicitly, or explicitly,

    GW1: There is no apex in this graphic. That is your interpretation or projection. Sure, the human is furthest to the right. So what? It is in correct chronological order, right?

    SP1: B) show that evolution is by and large a process of continual extinction by some lineages while others survive, and

    GW1: All graphics depicting evolution are simplifications. It is impossible to represent all parts of the theory. You’ll need a book of words for that.

    SP1: C) illustrate the basic premise that life started at some point, began diverging continually through time down multiple evolutionary pathways, and that the ‘top’ or outer boundary of the resulting bush represents everything that is alive today. You can show a lot in a still-simple graphic that doesn’t lend itself to such mis-characterization.

    GW1: This graphic is incomplete, but it doesn’t have any errors, correct?

    GW1: I heard that the whales are very upset that they were not included in the graphic and are going to file suit. Also, Donald Trump wants to be at the far right point since he is the smartest man who ever lived.

  • Gary Whittenberger

    You are projecting attitudes onto the graphic artist. This is like a Rorschach test.

  • Contractions of Fate

    The only thing really wrong with it is that it’s linear and not branching. I don’t know what skin tone Cro-Magnon had, but they were European by then and not African per se, and this was drawn by Europeans, not Kikuyu, Masai, Zulu, native Americans, Amer Indians, Chinese, Indians etc. The end-point is a male because it’s almost always been a man’s world, particularly in the 19th century when these things were first drawn.

  • Cage KY

    “Is this a simplistic way of conveying the facts about evolution?”

    To me, it’s more like a hieroglyph that conveys a commonly known idea, concept, instruction or declaration, not facts or details to be analyzed. It conveys the idea of evolution as a point of fact, not the fact itself.

    “Am I reading too much into it?”

    For some, No. In fact, many Fundamentalist Christians enjoy picking apart the inaccuracies and misrepresentations in the portrayal, just as you did, to point out the perceived foibles of evolution and its advocates.

    For others, you didn’t go far enough and should somehow remove and replace the figures to be more accurate, concise or less pejorative or offensive to the agenda driven or PC oriented.

    To me…? Meh.

    In the late 90s, while I was still in the Army, we were on the Korean DMZ in mid January. It was -32 degrees and we were bored. Some magazine depicting the icon was brought into question by a Christian kid. Among eight of us in the Day Room, we’re one Methodist Christian, one Muslim, one Jew and five atheist/agnostic/No Preference. (Seriously, it was the first time I ever was in a religious majority!) Anyway, the majority, to all our surprise, started picking the shit out of it. We even came up with what we thought was a better one showing a protein, amoeba, jellyfish, fish, lizard, shrew, meteor, lemur, monkey, chimp, cave man, Infantry Grunt. The Jewish kid could do pen and ink so he created a big poster out of it with the words “SUCK IT UP – DRIVE ON!” underneath. As of 2005, it was still hanging in the dayroom. No more accurate, but it got a bigger point across.

    The concept and fact details were argued for months. A surprising few thought we should have another meteor at the beginning instead of the protein, others wanted a UFO there, others at the end, some wanted it on both ends. It was fun, food for thought, even had some of less educated asking questions.

    Too much, not enough, just right…?

    Didn’t really matter. It got us talking together, gave us something to do, became a tiny legacy of little worth in a shit hole part of the world, and a story to relate 20 years later.

    Whooda thunkit?

  • JayRaskin

    Most of the people writing and looking at American and European books on evolution from the 1900 to the 1980s were white men, so the evolution illustrations reflected their self-images. That is to be expected and natural. People from china making the charts for people in China, certainly emphasized more Chinese looking people in their textbooks. Today, one finds a diversity of these charts when one googles them, many with women at the head, and many with darker-shinned persons at the head or all silhouetted figures. Nobody actually cares what the person at the extreme right of the chart looks like, the general idea that we have evolved over time from different species is what is important.
    For socio-political-economic reasons, most science done from the 1500 to the 1980s was done largely by white Males. Most people do not care that they were white males or make the racist or sexist claim that their being genetically white or male allowed them to make the scientific discoveries they made. Only racist and sexist ideologists care about the color or sex of scientists. Sane people care about the discoveries of things, processes and ideas they discovered and developed.

  • Nobody actually cares what the person at the extreme right of the chart looks like, the general idea that we have evolved over time from different species is what is important.

    Says who? Nonwhites and nonmales have every reason to wonder why modern humans are invariably portrayed as white men.

  • I’m not in any way suggesting that the problems with this graphic should make people reject the idea of human evolution. I’m just saying that the iconography implies a lot of things that are not true at all about evolution (that it has a direction, and that species ancestral to us were mere test runs for modern humans), and that the oversimplified nature of the depiction of an extremely complex historical process renders it a cartoonish caricature rather than a useful graphic.

  • JayRaskin

    Giovanni Pico della Mirandola couldn’t have said it better.

  • That’s the problem though. It IS taken literally by far too many people.

    That’s true. And I’m not really as concerned about the people who use it to caricature evolution, because they’re nothing but agenda-driven twerps. It’s the people who profess to understand and accept species evolution, and nevertheless handwave away any problems with this graphic, who annoy me. I have to say that anyone with a close-enough-for-jazz attitude to this simplistic, inaccurate and borderline racist image probably doesn’t have the most informed, nuanced understanding of evolution.

  • avelworldcreator

    It represents a timeline. Evolution is changes over time and time in our universe, AFAWK, has one definite direction. Evolution has a direction as a consequence. It implies that; nothing more. All else is the prejudices of the viewer. Nothing in the image contains the idea that any species that appears in it is “better” than those to either side of it. That the prior species might not exist any more is a consequence of natural selection but that issue isn’t even represented in that image. It does not imply the ancestral species don’t even exist. That requires prior knowledge to evaluate it that way. Now, try to create a pure visual representation that you think doesn’t imply what you say the older one implies and that is accurate and informative without explanatory text. Do you see the problem?

  • JayRaskin

    There is no reason to wonder. It is not invariable and it just depends on who does the drawing and the main audience for the drawing. It is kind of like wondering why all Japanese anime characters look Japanese. It is not due to Japanese racism, it is due to the people who draw it and the main audience for it being Japanese. Buddha is portrayed as Indian in India, Chinese in China and Japanese in Japan. In ancient Egypt, Egyptian male gods are portrayed as dark skinned and female goddesses are portrayed as light skinned. I don’t think changing that will solve any problems.

  • it just depends on who does the drawing and the main audience for the drawing.

    Right. And the reason an image like this resonates so strongly in our cultural imagination is the story it tells about the magic meritocracy of nature making our current social order inevitable. Maybe the reason you don’t find the image problematic at all is that you like the story it tells too.

  • We both understand that evolution is a complex process, but only one of us seems to think simplifying it for a quickie graphic has any sort of downside. I continue to assert that this image misrepresents evolution in the same ways you blithely handwave away: it explicitly depicts evolution as having a direction and an aim, that it improves species until they reach the pinnacle of development, modern humans, then stops.

    If you don’t have any problem with a depiction that doesn’t really depict anything accurate about evolution, hey, that’s just swell.

  • David Cromie

    “…invariably portrayed as white men”. Not true!

  • JayRaskin

    Talk about Diahann Carrol being the pinnacle, did you know that 50 years ago on January 29th, 1968, she opened at the Empire Room at the Waldorf Astoria?

  • JayRaskin

    I think it shows the biological order as changing. I am not sure if it says anything about the current social order which is certainly fragile and ever-changing,
    I think it gives pleasure because it shows logic and reason in nature. In the Chaos of nature, we do tend to find pleasure in seeing or learning about its logic and reasonableness.
    Also the great effort that has gone into creating this knowledge by so many diverse people around the world is also a source of pleasure. As Confucius said,
    “Is it not pleasant to learn with a constant perseverance and application? “Is it not delightful to have friends coming from distant quarters?”

  • avelworldcreator

    Where did you get the idea that I thought that simplifying for a graphic quickie was without any downside? It represents substantial information loss. Evolution does have a direction but only a temporal one. The blanket assertion that evolution has no direction itself is fallacious unless you are more specific about what you mean by “direction”. You say that the picture explicitly depicts evolution having an aim. Can you point out the objective elements that would make this a true assertion? I’m afraid I’m not seeing any hidden text that goes “This one is the worst”, “this one is better”, up to “this one is the best”. All I’m seeing at my end is a simplified graphical timeline for a single specie’s evolutionary history. These graphics exist for other species besides Homo Sapiens as well and they follow the same visual pattern. With those there are no indications, because of the nature of the species general appearance, of race or gender.

    The picture is only accurate in that it presents that humans have ancestors other than more humans. This is the only thing that the graphic is trying to convey. Does it do this? Yes. Are the ancestors being depicted necessarily the right ones? I don’t know because I’m not an evolutionary anthropologist and even they have limits on the accuracy of their knowledge. Can the artwork be improved to better indicate the sexual dimorphism of our species? Maybe. The earlier ancestors may not have had the grossly exaggerated gender markers that humans have and even if they did we have no way of knowing what they looked like because those are all soft tissue and didn’t survive in fossilized form for us to examine. And the race? Not all Africans are of the same racial stock. I think there were originally five on that continent alone that we know of. Which was the first one? In fact this is a problem with all the other “races”. Generally they’ve all had variations and offshoots as a result of normal evolutionary process.

  • I think it gives pleasure because it shows logic and reason in nature.

    But there’s no “logic and reason in nature,” we just impose order on it with our expectations.

    Also the great effort that has gone into creating this knowledge by so many diverse people around the world is also a source of pleasure.

    Here we absolutely agree. Our scientific knowledge is a form of world literature, a vast compendium of the stories we’ve amassed about the universe.

  • al kimeea

    nice – well, if I did know, I’ve long forgotten

  • al kimeea

    Are you referring to our ancestor 2nd from the right?

  • America deserves its own version:
    http://jetudielacom.com/wp-content/uploads/wtf_minga6_evolution-copie.png

    I’m yet to see a version which ends in a ‘distracted’ cellphone zombie walking (oblivious) to his demise due to an unperceived hazard just ahead of him?

  • al kimeea

    What do you mean by “we”? I don’t relate to evolution in that way, nor was I ever taught to do so. Sunday School is no forum for learning actual evolution or much else.

  • al kimeea

    Put a woman on the end what does it change?

  • You say that the picture explicitly depicts evolution having an aim. Can you point out the objective elements that would make this a true assertion? I’m afraid I’m not seeing any hidden text that goes “This one is the worst”, “this one is better”, up to “this one is the best”.

    Think about it. The species are all shown in parade formation, as if they’re advancing toward a goal. And the way we conceptualize evolution being due to competition and selection makes it a synonym for improvement.

  • You should see the book from which this illustration comes from. It’s called “From the Beginning” by David Peters and it highlights 36 steps in human evolution from raw chemicals through worms, fish, etc. up to the present day. The illustration encapsulates in one illustration the last 200 million years of evolution in the human lineage. Although evolution does produce a bush of descendants, every twig, including Homo sapiens can trace a lineage down to the roots. The human at the end of the illustration is me. I”m David Peters, author and illustrator, now several decades older. I was born in Nebraska from a German heritage.

  • avelworldcreator

    And you just admitted my point :

    And the way we conceptualize evolution

    . The way you conceptualize would be a more truthful and accurate statement and that also means you are indeed imposing your previously held beliefs to the image – which has been my whole point. And they are NOT in parade formation. Parade formation requires that the participants match in appearance. You just used a military term. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Military_parade

  • The way you conceptualize would be a more truthful and accurate statement and that also means you are indeed imposing your previously held beliefs to the image

    Oh, give it a rest. I’ve explained to you over and over what’s wrong with the image, and offered the words of one of the most renowned science writers who ever lived to explain what’s wrong with it. All you’ve done is handwave and deny.

    Let’s face it, anyone who understands what evolution is and isn’t, particularly a scientist, would at best say that it conveys the sense that humans have evolved from nonhuman ancestors. Any scientifically literate person would agree that it’s a crude, simplistic caricature that, like most pop culture images, conveys a fundamentally mistaken impression of the phenomenon. If you still disagree, by all means, offer some scientist or science writer’s positive assessment of this graphic.

  • avelworldcreator

    You specifically asked your readership to critique your article. My critique is easily summarized as “You make a series of subjective complaints about this image but provide no positive, objective, solution that would resolve your concerns about it.” The image was created to solve a specific problem in communicating an idea to a general audience. This sets specific boundaries to any alternate solution. But you are the one making the accusation. The burden of proof falls on you and not me. Given that this image pops up in natural history museums being curated by scientists provides all the positive assessment I need. It tends to appear as 3-dimensional displays, i.e. dioramas, but the pattern is still there.Those places are facing the exact same communication problem; at least they can put a plaque up to clarify the image. You also seemed unaware that previous attempts have been made to do a better versions already. The amusing thing? There is nothing to indicate there is even a timeline here – it’s just a bunch of animals lined up together and facing left. Some even overlapping for unknown reason. That’s the main problem of the image – it doesn’t give enough information really.

  • It’s a great drawing. I wasn’t criticizing the quality of the artwork. What I’m pointing out is that the image implies a lot of things that aren’t true about evolution, but we overlook the problems because it also tells us things we want to believe about progress and human inevitability.

  • Contractions of Fate

    “Nonwhites and nonmales have every reason to wonder why modern humans are invariably portrayed as white men”
    Except that they are not. Some non-whites and non-males do not want to see ANY portrayals of white men, ever, and suffer the delusion of them being everywhere. This is just looking for an issue to have.

    And there were four Nubian pharaohs of Egypt. That’s it.

  • “Nonwhites and nonmales have every reason to wonder why modern humans are invariably portrayed as white men”
    Except that they are not. Some non-whites and non-males do not want to see ANY portrayals of white men, ever, and suffer the delusion of them being everywhere. This is just looking for an issue to have.

    Well, in terms of this illustration, they seem to be correct. In an extremely common piece of pop-culture iconography concerning human evolution, the end result is always a white man. And the reason people rarely admit that that’s a problem is that the image tells us a story about the inevitability of the social order that’s acceptable to us.

  • Contractions of Fate

    I think you are over-intellectualising it. A bit like Sarkeesian and her “Sexism in Computer Games” nonsense. But it’s probably true that the under-educated and under-thinking would get that message from this because they are just racist, sexist and dim to start with. I doubt they would even understand your analysis of it. The reason these old drawings end with a “white male” is because it represents Cro-Magnon and was drawn by NW European males 150 years ago.

  • I guess it seems to me that you’re under-intellectualizing it then, because I see nothing wrong with taking a skeptical look at imagery we take for granted and acknowledging problems with it. That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with the theory of evolution by natural selection, or white males for that matter. However, the drawing in the post above is only a couple of decades old at most, and it raises a lot of questions about how we as a society conceptualize evolution, progress, and the social order.

  • David Cromie

    It seems that you are criticising these simplistic images for not being something they did not set out to be. Do you have a better set of ‘realistic’ images?

  • David, it’s extremely tricky to make a graphic that simplifies the history of evolution without dumbing it down so egregiously that it’s useless. The idea that a graphic could even feature pictures of individual organisms and still characterize the complexity and contingency of the process is almost comical. Nevertheless, I think this graphic gives a high-level overview of the history of evolution without privileging humans or making it seem like evolution has a direction or aim.
    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/83d6e6816ebebcafc8cb77ceb598654aa1a7cf46a14e8317aabbaa63770a4735.gif

  • David Cromie

    A good attempt by Eisenberg. However, the mammal images you complain of are still a reasonable, even if oversimplified, depiction of their evolution, for the beginner.

  • Contractions of Fate

    No, you are over-intellectualising it from what seems to be some sort of feminist, social philosophy perspective. This is evolutionary biology, a hard science. It ends with a Cro-Magnon, not “a white man”.

    What do you expect it to end with? A Neanderthal? If it did, you would probably complain that racists would use it to promote the fallacy that Africans are sub-human because they have very little Neanderthal DNA whereas Europeans have a few percent and so are “more evolved”. You could also use that for it ending with a Cro-Magnon, in fact. But they are just very slightly different, very closely related branches. There is more variation between chimps and Bonobos than there is in the entire human species.

    Or would you prefer it to end with an African? If if it did, you would probably complain that creationist racists would use it to show that blacks are slightly more intelligent monkeys, but “The White Man was Created by GAWD!!”

    And where would the Asians, Chinese, Japanese, Amer Indians, Australian aborignes, Maoris, Inuit etc be?

    Like I said before, the only thing really wrong with it is that it is linear and non-branching. The real problem is the absolutely astounding ignorance, particularly in the USA, about what evolution is, what it means and how it actually works. It’s an over-simplification for a kiddie book, as Donald Prothero might say, much like the schematics of the geological profile is an over-simplification for a kiddie book, and real rock strata are far more complex than that.

    So better education is what’s needed, not banning a graphic that’s been around for 150+ years.

    Maybe if they had a dozen people of different ethnicities, would you be happier with that?

    Oh! It doesn’t have Nuristanis, Hereros or Abkhaz!

  • Or would you prefer it to end with an African? If if it did, you would probably complain that creationist racists would use it to show that blacks are slightly more intelligent monkeys, but “The White Man was Created by GAWD!!”

    You should really calm down.

  • tophilacticus

    perspective.

  • tophilacticus

    It is way oversimplifying and agree with comments below that the linear hierarchy confuses more than it helps (I would say taxonomy – even the concept of species does this as well). Not only is it a simplification – it shows the ancestor – descendant relationship that is not testable and no longer used. (Which is why modern phylogenetics uses cladistic analyses where sister taxa and groupings are important. Direct ancestors are unknowable as we know it.) However nothing has disturbed me more than than racist comments (elsewhere on the web) on the recent Cheddar Man DNA analysis and sculpture (showing the first modern humans in the British Isles had much darker skin) – emanating from linear perspective on evolution.

  • NEIL C. REINHARDT

    RACISTS SEE RACISM WHERE IT IS NOT!

  • NEIL C. REINHARDT

    BS! IT IS NOT RIDDLED WITH BIAS.

  • NEIL C. REINHARDT

    MAYBE THEY SHOULD GET A CLUE AS` TO WHO HAS DONE THE MOST RESEARC AND STUDY ON EVOLUTION.

  • NEIL C. REINHARDT

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